In January, San Diego Magazine put Colin Rice on its “50 People to Watch in 2010” list, reporting that the loyal ex-aide and political advisor to former assemblyman and insurance-company lobbyist Juan Vargas, who narrowly won the Democratic primary for a state senate seat in June, had “recently joined the Amerland Group, an affordable-housing developer.” As it’s turned out, there’s been plenty to watch for. In June, Amerland cofounders Jules Arthur and Ruben Islas of La Jolla, longtime Vargas backers, as well as three other workers for the San Diego–based company, were arrested here and subsequently pled not guilty in Solano County Superior Court to a bevy of criminal counts of manslaughter and elder abuse stemming from an August 15, 2008 blaze that killed three residents of the historic Casa de Vallejo, a taxpayer-subsidized low-income senior housing complex run by Amerland in downtown Vallejo. Two civil suits alleging that managers ignored fire codes and didn’t fix the building’s faulty fire alarm have since been lodged against the defendants and Amerland.
Vargas isn’t the only local politico to pick up financial support from Amerland. According to congressional disclosure records, last year the company paid $10,000 to the Washington firm of Hessel, Aluise and Neun to lobby on “matters relating to the U.S. Department of Human Development.” And City records show that this May 12 Arthur contributed $500 to the successful reelection bid of San Diego city councilman Tony Young; giving the same were director of acquisitions Casey Haeling and Rice, identified as Amerland’s vice president of acquisitions. In May of last year, Rice gave $250 to the legal defense fund of Councilman Ben Hueso, currently a Democratic candidate for state assembly. In 2008, Councilman Todd Gloria got a total of $1350 from Arthur, Rice, and other Amerland employees. In May of last year, Amerland bought Golden Age Apartments on South 36th Street here, using federal money in a subsidized housing deal made possible by the City. Young made the February 2009 motion to approve the arrangement, seconded by Hueso. The vote was 8-0. In the wake of the Amerland controversies, Haeling and Rice (who were not named in the fire case) announced they were going it alone and forming C & C Development, which is also seeking the council’s financing help.